School time means the kids are out of the house during the day. While the silence and uninterrupted time can be a blessing for parents, sending the kids off to school each day comes with a few extra chores. For a variety of reasons, the majority of parents pack a lunch for their child daily or almost daily. However, creating a healthy lunch that your child will eat without spending too much time or money can be a challenge.
The hottest trend in packed lunches is the bento box. A bento box is “a thin box, made of plastic or lacquered wood, divided into compartments which contain small separate dishes comprising a Japanese meal, especially lunch.” (Dictionary.com)
Although originally bento boxes were fairly simple and contain traditional Japanese items like rice, meatballs and vegetables, the options are limitless. The new American style emphasizes using small portions of each food group and creating a cute design that appeals to kids.Here are a few tips to get you started.
Bento box school lunches: getting started
- Keep it simple. You know best what and how much your child will eat.
- Plan ahead. Designing a work of art just before running out the door won’t work. Make lunches the night before and keep a supply of items that can just be tossed in to go on busier days.
- Buy the right packaging. Invest in a set of plastic tubs that your child can open. (We like Rubbermaid Lunch Blox) This will save you a fortune in plastic baggies.
- Get your child involved. Whether you’re letting him pick a few items at the grocery store or giving him a task to help you pack, your child is more likely to eat something that he made “himself”.
There are plenty of resources online with ideas for more elaborate bento boxes. These require a few extra minutes, a few cookie cutters and toothpicks, and creativity. Check out the following:
Bento box inspiration from She Knows Parenting
How to make a bento box for kids from Alpha Mom
20 easy bento lunch boxes from Parenting.com
A smorgasbord of bento lunch ideas from Following in my Shoes
If those seem cute but a little too much, stock up on items that can be added to small containers. Pick one item from each food group (meat, dairy, fruit, veggie, grain) per day. These items are easy to keep on hand and require little prep.
Bento box school lunches: basic ingredients
mixed fruit cups (open & rinse to remove excess sugar)
Bento box school lunches: traditional Japanese fare
If you want something more traditional for a bento, Tokyo Cafe sells bento lunch boxes that contain items like rice, pasta, meatballs, chicken nuggets, and sauteed veggies. Sniffles(8) is a fan of the store-bought microwave Yakisoba. Tokyo Cafe has a recipe that is fresh, tasty and free from the preservatives found in instant meals. When the weather starts turning cool, break out the thermos and send this lunch that can be made ahead of time and reheated before packing.
- 10 oz. noodles
- 1 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Worchester sauce
- 1 tablespoon sake*
- 1 tablespoon mirin* (Alcohol generally cooks out of hot items, but leave these out if you prefer.)
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
- 4 oz. sliced pork shoulder meat (or any other any type of meat: chicken, beef, pork, tofu)
- 2 oz. green cabbage
- 2 oz. julienne carrots
- 2 cloves of chopped garlic
- 1 tablespoon of chopped green onions
- Cook noodles according to package, rinse with cold water and drain. The noodles need to be separate and not stuck together.
- Prepare the sauce. Combine soy sauce, Worchester sauce, sake, mirin, sugar and sesame oil. Set aside.
- Add oil to a hot pan and brown the garlic, then add the pork and stir fry until cooked on the outside. Before the pork is fully cooked add the carrots and cabbage, noodles, and yakisoba sauce. Stir-fry until cabbage and carrots are cooked. Top with green onions.
Do you have a tip or favorite way of making school lunches? Have you ever made a bento box before?
Tokyo Cafe in Fort Worth would like to give one reader a $25 gift card and two bento box lunches! To enter, leave a meaningful comment on this post and fill out the Rafflecopter form.
Information for this story was provided by She Knows and Tokyo Cafe.